Is 21st Century Fox in play? Absolutely. Who’s playing who is a more complicated question. Two weeks ago, the news was of discussions with Disney about selling TV assets. Now Comcast is named as a possible buyer in the Murdoch press – that’s not a leak, that’s a release.
And, as remarked here before, rumours persist that if the AT&T takeover of Time Warner stumbles on regulators, then the Murdoch’s still see a TW / Fox merger as a way to gain the scale they think is needed to compete with the FANG phenomenon.
Of course, Fox is not above offering itself around town to jack up the price and, or, to jack up its own share price. But the fact Fox hasn’t distanced itself from these stories – it has denied plans to sell, but that’s a different thing – perhaps indicates a change in philosophy at Fox. Murdoch senior has never been a seller, period. He has bet the farm several times to build the empire that now stretches before his sons. But those sons, more spreadsheet than swash and buckle, can see that a geographically thinly-spread group with a patchy synergy between content production and broadcast distribution isn’t, maybe, the best shape to take on the what’s coming. And that’s without mentioning the other ‘dinosaur’ print part of the family business.
If it’s all about ROI, then there’s an argument for running around town talking up deals and pumping the stock price in order to achieve the maximum share of some mega merger that creates another true behemoth that will be, at least theoretically, too big to fail even in a future that belongs to FANG. (BTW: I always think of the A in FANG as Amazon; feel free to try and persuade me it should be Apple).
It feels like there is a real game of M&A musical chairs coming up and everyone will soon get paranoid about being the kid left sitting on the floor. One step ahead, as ever, the Murdochs have decided to plug in the hi-fi (look it up) and stand next to the pause button.